Alhaji Sabo Nanono, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), has said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration places high priority in agriculture.
This is why its plan to diversify the economy through agriculture is stronger than ever, Nanono said in his keynote address during a webinar on Tuesday.
The event was jointly organised by National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigeria chapter, and FMARD.
The minister said that Buhari’s administration, in the wake of the challenging COVID-19 pandemic, was providing rural infrastructure, improved seeds, farm inputs, market access and produce to small holder farmers.
Speaking on the topic, “CoVID-19, securing Nigeria’s food system through technology,’’ he pointed out that technology, especially biotechnology, had a crucial role to play in boosting food security in the country.
Nanono stressed that in the face of the challenging pandemic which was threathening all aspects of modern life, especially the agricultural food chain, modern biotechnology was a critical tool in improving food supply.
He said with biotechnology, the shelf life of vegetables would help resuscitate the food sector.
The minister also spoke about his ministry’s collaboration with NABDA and other agencies toward the production of the recent Nigerian invented RNA Swift extraction kit for COVID-19 diagnosis.
He said because of this, “COVID-19 test is available locally,’’ re-iterating that the FMARD would continue to support science and technology in order to enhance food production and avoid post-harvest losses.
“The COVID-19 may probably open opportunity for our country to look inward in what we produce and what we eat.
“The country has enormous potential to feed its people,’’ Nanono said.
Prof. Alex Akpa, co-host of the virtual conference on mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on Nigeria food security system, said the webinar was to fashion out ways to address the pandemic with biotechnology.
He said biotechnology was a very powerful tool that had the potential of helping the country to address many situations including disease outbreaks, hunger, malnutrition, insects and pests infection among others.
The professor noted that the agricultural sector was one of most affected by the pandemic restrictions.
“ People can’t gather closely to undertake farming activities because of social distance rules.
“Our smallholder farmers carry out farming through communal participation.
“As unplanned as Covid-19, so also other vulnerabilities that agriculture face in this country.
“Climate change which has brought flooding and desert encroachment on us did not warn us ahead.
“All this has shown that as a country we cannot underrate the contributions of science and technology,’’ Akpa said.
He assured that with technology in agriculture, Nigeria would “leapfrog production, have better quality produce and high yields, reduce drudgery, improve resistance to pest and diseases.’’
He hinted that NABDA had also been been able to unfold a programme capable of producing about five million yam seedlings using the aeroponics technology for farmers across Nigeria in this Covid-19 lockdown era.
Akpa disclosed that the agency had also grown more than 31 bio-resources development centres all around the country, charged with responsibilities of harnessing and developing the bio-resources.
He said this had gone a long way in impacting the immediate communities, impacting the lives of the people by providing food on their table, creating jobs and empowering women and the youth.
Earlier, Dr Rose Gidado, Natiional Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigeria chapter, had given a background and tone for the conference.
Gidado said COVID-19 was one of the world’s most significant pandemics leading to decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
She said this had led to social disruptions and loss of millions of jobs, adding that as a result of this, small holder farmers were at the receiving end.
“How do we actualise the sustainable agricultural ecosystem of our dreams?
“Biotechnology is therefore the kinpin in tackling and overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic to food security,’’ she said.
Dr Philip Ojo, Director-General, National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), said the council was ready to work hard, through the use of its various innovations, to improve the seed sector amidst the pandemic.
“Seed is among the essential services and must continue to thrive in order to ensure food security,’’ he said.
He added that farmers must continue to have access to improved seeds.
Dr Yemi Akinbamijo of Forum for Agricultural Research In Africa (FARA), said all must contribute to keep Nigeria food secure in the challenging pandemic.
He said in this period, Nigeria would be the litmus test of the success or failure of the present situation.
He added that Nigeria’s biotechnology needed to be strengthened as an emerging leader in biotechnology to curb the pandemic and keep the nation food secured.
Dr Martin Fregene, Director, Agriculture and Agro Industry, African Development bank, also made his presentation alongside Prof. M. Ishyaku, of Institute for Agricultrural Research, Sumaru, Zaria.
Ishyaku said the COVID-19 would be around for a long time and ways must be created for it to work for Nigerians as the new normal.
The conference featured many high profile academics and agricultural biotechnologists, including Dr Abdulrazak Ibrahim and Mr Anibe Achimugu, President, National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN), among others.